Office of the President

June 19, 2006

Educational change, UW volleyball and American cheeseburgers

Office of the President

Sunday, June 18

Summer has certainly arrived in Beijing, with 90-degree weather and uncommonly clear blue skies – the usual brown cloud of smog leaving at least for the weekend.  Streets and sidewalk shops and restaurants are jammed with families enjoying the bit of perfect weather.

Saturday also brought with it an opportunity to talk about the UW, China and higher education issues on CCTV, the national Chinese broadcasting system.
I was asked to participate in an English language show, called “Dialogue.”  The interviewer – China’s Diane Sawyer, I was told – was remarkably well informed about higher education issues and the University of Washington.

For the 30-minute show she grilled me on questions of tuition and affordability of a college education, expanding access for those in rural communities, and maintaining quality while supporting growing populations of students.

Once again the similarities between American and Chinese educational issues was apparent. But one striking differences leaps out to even the casual observer.  China is trying to compress generations of development and change into a handful of years. The rate and scale of change going on is simply staggering.

While we at the UW can change to holistic admissions by treating an  applicant as a unique individual, Chinese universities must deal with 9 million applicants every year!  We are concerned about integrating our two new campuses in Tacoma and Bothell with the Seattle campus, while Tsingjua University tries to coordinate over 100 satellite campuses with its Beijing campus.

The policy questions may be the same, but the scale and sense of urgency are strikingly different. One cannot help but be impressed by the fortitude and confidence that the Chinese leaders bring to these daunting tasks. And to recognize that they see themselves – rightly, I believe – in a race against time to solve social challenges before they are overwhelming.

Dinner with the Husky volleyball team

Among those learning about Chinese society and taking in the sights and sounds of this fascinating place are the Husky volleyball team and those UW supporters traveling with them.

I caught up with them Sunday night for dinner. In their first stop in China, they are 1 and 1 playing against skilled Beijing opponents. But the point of their trip is much more than athletic competition.

I was delighted to see this group of wonderful students relishing in all that China has to offer: historical sights, distinctive culture, plenty of local cuisine.

Like me, more than a few of them are ready for a great cheeseburger. And they will struggle to fit all their purchases in suitcases. But how fun to see them representing the UW to their Chinese hosts with the same energy and presence that brought them a national championship.